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Rethinking Chinese School of IR from the Perspective of Strategic Essentialism

24 3 21
13.04.2021

This article is based on insights from ‘Reappraising the Chinese School of International Relations: A Postcolonial Perspective’. Review of International Studies (2021).

As early as 1977 Stanley Hoffmann claimed that International Relations (IR) is an American social science (Hoffmann 1977), and according to Ann Tickner (2013), little has changed since then. Mainstream IR scholars perceive different regions of the world as test cases for their theories rather than as sources of theory in themselves. Thereby, the “non-West” became a domain that IR theorists perceived as backward; a domain which requires instruction in order to reach the “end of history” that Western modernity encapsulates (Fukuyama 1992). The phenomenon of American-centrism is closely related to the experience of the United States as a world hegemonic power after World War II. Although US hegemony has often been challenged by other countries in the world, its hegemonic status has never been replaced. Even if other countries looked like they would surpass the US at certain times (the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and Japan in the 1980s), they actually did not have the global, sustainable and all-round appeal of the American model. Therefore, American hegemony in the contemporary world not only enjoys technological, economic, and political superiority, but is also cultural, ideational and ideological.

However, any great power in history has its rise and fall, and the United States is no exception. The financial crisis in 2008, Brexit, the emergence of populism in Western countries, as well as the rise of non-Western countries, have challenged the current liberal order led by the United States. First of all, the stability of American society itself has been declining in recent years, especially under Trump’s administration. Racial divisions, coupled with other accumulated social and economic problems, have plunged the United States into serious trouble. The COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 has weakened the West as a role model for governance and accelerated the transfer of power and influence from the West to the “rest.” In addition, the voice of developing countries and non-Western regions has become stronger in the past few decades as their wealth and power has increased. The combined nominal GDP of the BRICS countries, for instance, accounts for approximately one-quarter of the world’s total GDP. Some scholars have pointed out that the norms, institutions, and value systems promoted internationally by the West are disintegrating. The world is entering a “post-Western era” (Munich Security Report 2017).

The views and experiences of non-Western subjects have increasingly been recognized as an indispensable part of the discipline, which is a consequence of the decline of the West and the wider dissemination of non-Western cultural and philosophical concepts. Various research agendas and appeals have been put forward around this theme. Among the most representative and influential are two initiatives: “Non-Western/Global IR” and “Post-Western IR.” Advocates of Non-Western/Global relations theory, such as Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan, not only criticize the Western-centrism of the discipline, but also advocate the establishment of IR research based on the histories and cultures of other regions, and encourage the development of non-Western IR theories (See Acharya and Buzan 2010; 2019). The “World Beyond the West” research series (World Beyond the West), initiated by Ann Tickner, Ole Wæver, David Blaney and others, hope to present the local knowledge production practiced by multiple sites, so as to criticize Western-centrism in the discipline, and to respond to the political and ethical challenges faced by the discipline in the post-Western era. Both initiatives expect to develop diverse IR theories and concepts based on “non-Western” historical experience, thoughts and viewpoints.

The rise of interest in non-Western thought in the field of IR has had a positive significance for the development of Chinese IR theory. Many Chinese scholars believe that a Chinese School of IR should be established. For these advocates, Chinese IR not only needs to develop its own epistemological system to understand international relations from China’s perspective; it can also contribute to discussion of what kind of world order China wants. Qin Yaqing, one of the most representative advocates of the Chinese School, believes that the........

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